Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
The team’s still trying to determine if surgery is necessary.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Players nursing bumps and bruises as camps wrap.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
He won’t play in either of Ottawa’s Monday exhibitions games.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT
Seasoning in the AHL should serve the 20-year-old well.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Agent confirms talking to several KHL teams.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
With Giroux out, Craig Berube juggles lines.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Not at Oilers camp for the first time in his career.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Columbus looking at options with Johansen not at camp.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:36 PM EDT
The restricted free agent seems to be at an impasse with Columbus.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said he’s “fine,” but he initially said the same of Clowe when the player had a concussion.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
The knee injury he sustained during the lockout shortened season might be partially to blame for his struggles.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:07 PM EDT
That’s after years of being the center of a goaltending controversy in Vancouver.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT
Can they be the first repeat winners since Detroit in 1997-98?
Sep 20, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
He was asked how he would have handled the Ray Rice situation.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT
Do Thornton and Marleau disagree with coach Todd McLellan on this point?
Sep 20, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
It’s his first chance to provide his argument for why he should make the team.
Sep 20, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
Tough timing for him as he had been playing alongside fellow countryman David Krejci.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Optimistic about sticking with the big club out of camp.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Listed as day-to-day.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:13 PM EDT
Expected to miss a couple days according to Randy Carlyle.
- Injuries piling up as preseason schedule begins 7
- Report: Fedorov denies contract offer was made to Johansen 3
- Report: Johansen has gotten no shortage of KHL offers 30
- Update: Drouin out with upper body injury, not expected to miss preseason 1
- Report: NHL officials to participate in preseason without new CBA 1
- Evander Kane: I know I can score 50 goals 13
- ‘C’-less Thornton comes out swing against Wilson’s ‘tomorrow team’ talk 18
- Joe Sakic’s now general manager in name too 6
- Update: Giroux out two weeks with lower-body injury 26
- Update: Crosby on ice with Penguins teammates Friday, leaves early 5
- Heeeeeere’s Johnny! Davidson shreds Johansen’s agent for ‘baffling, nonsensical’ contract demands (65)
- Chiarelli: At some point, I’m going to have to trade a defenseman (56)
- Jackets reveal Johansen offers — including an eight year, $46M deal (55)
- Will the NHL publicize divers? (48)
- No icing on the PK? The USHL will see how that looks (43)